Much like the two previous novels in this series, Ali Smith’s Spring is a novel of the times. But more than simply being a story told within our zeitgeist, there’s a lot going on here.
While the first, Autumn, spent a lot of time thinking about Brexit, this novel moves into the world of Trump, without mentioning Trump more than a few times. The focus is less about the world itself so much as the chaos, uncertainty, and disruption we feel (irrespective of whether or not these things are particularly a feature of this new world or merely more apparent because of the increased contrast). There’s a moment in this novel that highlights this feeling…the kind of Bader-Meinhof feeling of cruelty in the world. The world has always been garbage, but a lot of people are waking up to their own privilege and obliviousness with the visceral and repetitive and ubiquitous ways in which we’re made to feel it or make ourselves feel it constantly.
Anyway, this moment involves a woman going to the local library and being told it’s closed. She laments immediately the need for libraries and how sad, predictable, and fatalistic that the library’s been closed. She is then told they mean today, Tuesday, it happens to be closed. This disruptive chaos is embodied in moments like this. In which the logical conclusion is jumped to before the process is complete.
The novel flits around different characters — a theater director working on a film in which Rilke and Katherine Mansfield meet in a tuberculosis spa town. They had been in town at the same, but never met (Mansfield died of TB and Rilke did not), but this film will reimagine that. We also get the story of a migrant detention center guard whose simple act of taking a government job has disrupted her moral standing in the world.
I do like these novels a lot because of their visceral read on contemporary life.